When I was young at the ice skating rink, my Dad and I skated and sang to Lionel Ritchie.
You are the sun, you are the rain
(that makes my life this foolish game).
But only for a moment, because then he was ahead, faster than me on the fresh ice, where he’d be the rest of the afternoon.
I skated with my left hand out to feel for the wall, hoping for no sudden movements, watching out for the wool driver’s cap and blue parka bobbing above the rest of the smaller puffy pink and red and yellow coated kids. I was big enough to not have to have my mittens attached to my sleeves, I thought gratefully as I watched a kid who was big enough, but whose mittens were still attached to his sleeves.
Kids whizzed dangerously close, but I pursued him steadily. Rounding the makeshift corners (in the summer, this place was used for street hockey) three, four times, I had more and more difficulty guiding my blades into flat spaces. The grooves of other people’s feet gave me trouble—if I thought too hard about it, I’d slow down and let myself get hung up in the little ditches. I was small enough for that to really send me into a tailspin.
We reunited on the sidelines to watch the Zamboni do its work. If I were faster, I thought, gazing through the banged up plexiglass, I’d pounce on the stretches away from the wall where the ice stayed the freshest, the flattest. Most people fell there.
It took five yards of planning to slow, brake, slow, brake, hoping the small kids would figure out how to angle their bodies away from me. I skidded into semi-turns, pre-emptive defenses, and lost precious views of him, who used the same obstacles to inspire new speed, new angles.
This time it only took me a few laps to catch up to him in the crowds, but I had taken so long that by then, skating was over and it was time to go home. We unpeeled our skates and our wool socks smushed solidly against the rubber flooring, shocking deliciously. We stood in line to buy hot chocolate with whipped cream in Styrofoam cups.
He bought me a box of Lemonheads, and we walked out into the parking lot. I liked the clacking of the tangy spheres against the sides of their box. Seat belted by his side, in the blue and white van, I crunched through smooth sweet surfaces into hard yellow sourness. The combination repeated with each new lemonhead: Smooth sweet sour hard. Steely Dan was on the radio, but I think we were both still singing the same song inside. Smooth sweet sour hard.
Head after lemony head, I bounced a little too much once we got home, all the way down the hallway with the mirror-lined walls, the kind etched with branch-like lines across the glass surface. I knew the spots where I could see most of my face between the bronze scratches that mimicked nature’s underbrush. My furry earmuffs were still on; my blotchy face still throbbed from the exertion of chasing him. A giant, smiling lemonhead on the candy box winked.
“You are the sun!” I shouted.
“You are the rain, babeeee…” My father’s distant whistle in the kitchen joined me. I shot my arms up in the air, straining out of their puffy coat sleeves. Streaming music, invisible, connected us even as his footsteps retreated down the stairs to the basement. Head crooning into the candy box mike, I swayed my hips into my best John Travolta, even though corduroys made it hard to move. A muted heartbeat—was it mine?—throbbed and kept up with the song weaving in and out of my mouth. Glass serpentine mirror arms waved back at me, and I snapped my fingers at the end of each line, “makes my life this foolish game.” A splash echoed my snaps, like a hand brushing against tissue paper at the end of a long tunnel. I smiled into my reflective forest.
You are the sun. I danced farther along the hallway, hearing a drumbeat far away in the basement, I strutted past the bathroom, mouth an o-shaped yodel. I passed the study. You are the rain. On to my bedroom at the end I stepped just once, and the candy in the box rattled a little more and I tilted my head back, the last delicious ball rolled onto the tip of my tongue and almost to the place on the side of my mouth where I could hold it still and taste the sweet before the sour crunch oh but before I could it sprang from my jaw hold and stuck in my windpipe—no going up, no going down—I had no air; my last lemonhead was choking me. It killed all the music except the heartbeats and the splashes, the drumbeats coming from far off in the house, kept the rhythm without my melody. I turned, back through the mirror-lined hallway from my bedroom, past the bathroom and into the kitchen where I last saw him. Besides my head, the rest of my body was walking just like it had been on the way in. With my head, I was a cork jammed. No going up, no going down.
He wasn’t there and I banged a chair against the table to call him.
I returned to the mirror forest: my only witness to certain devastation. Through their crackly brown lines, redness darkened around my cheeks, surprised, breath on pause. The lemonhead did not budge. These really aren’t my favorite candies, my brain put its grubby little hands on the dumb details that brains like to think about when you think you might die. Deformed branches wrapped around my arms, chest, pinned the top of my forehead. I’ve got so much love. My brain was so dumb that it used song lyrics in place of dying thoughts. Only you move me.
I jumped up and down a little. Vice grip locked. Dad wasn’t coming for me. The steady beat got louder and faster, too fast for the song even if I were able to sing it. I clawed at my other self in the mirror. Two heavy lines barbed across the middle of my neck, thick, where I held the tightest part of a scream. I dropped the smiling cardboard box, mangled by my terrified fist. My face curled in strain with each punch I delivered to my stomach. I bent over so far that the shoulders of my coat covered my ears so I barely heard the beating I was making. Finally, I coughed, the block dropped, and air popped back into my head.
The beat continued, and I followed it through the house. I found him in the basement, sitting at his drum set.
His hair clung in sweaty waves against the sides of his head, his arms at work in front of him, one hand holding two criss-crossed sticks, the other using a brush against the snare. My voice hurt, but I yelled anyway. When he stopped his banging, he had to wait for the racket of my crying to die down, waited for me to tell the story in between heaves and sniffling. He didn’t hear that I had been utterly stopped before, airless.
He laid down his drumsticks and came over to me, holding me. But I wanted him to be the one who was made to be still, held in place, with no notion of how things might turn out, when I pushed away from him, demanded, then and at every retelling,
“Where did you go?”